One of the themes of Mark is misunderstanding. It seems that nobody really figures out who Jesus is in the text except for the author and you the reader. Everyone else seems to be in the dark regarding Jesus. Jesus tells his disciples three times in Mark that he will be killed, what some scholars call Jesus’ “passion predictions.” These predictions are in Mark 8:27-32; 9:30-32; 10:32-34. Each prediction is met with the disciples not understanding what Jesus is saying in the Gospel of Mark. After his third passion prediction, James and John ask Jesus to grant them whatever they desire. From the text we read, “And James and John, the sons of Zeb′edee, came forward to him, and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking.” (Mark 10:35-38 RSV)
From my reading of this text it certainly seems that Mark is portraying James and John of not understanding the fact that Jesus just told them that he is going to be killed in a horrible manner. Rather, they are (in this text) focused on their personal desires, clearly not understanding Jesus. This is a theme throughout the text of Mark’s message: that Jesus was a misunderstood Messiah.
So here we have a classic case of misunderstanding and jealousy. Jesus tells his disciples who he is and what he is about to do, and the two brothers ask if they can be rulers in the upcoming kingdom they believe Jesus is about to establish. Jesus tells them that they don’t even know what they are talking about!
James Talmage said this about this text:
The ten apostles were indignant at the two brothers, possibly less through disapproval of the spirit that had prompted the petition than because the two had forestalled (prevented) the others in applying for the chief posts of distinction. But Jesus, patiently tolerant of their human weaknesses, drew the Twelve around Him, and taught them as a loving father might instruct and admonish his contentious children. He showed them how earthly rulers, such as princes among the Gentiles, domineer over their subjects, manifesting lordship and arbitrarily exercising the authority of office. But it was not to be so among the Master’s servants; whoever of them would be great must be a servant indeed, willingly ministering unto his fellows; the humblest and most willing servant would be the chief of the servants. “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Jesus the Christ [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 468.)